This past weekend, my cousin Roys Gureli was visiting from Istanbul, Turkey. She is the founder and CEO of annelutfen.com, a baby/mother online retail store operating in Turkey. She is a young entrepreneur, a Northwestern undergrad, and a recent graduate of Stanford MBA program. I took this is as an opportunity to learn more about her entrepreneurship journey, and so we started our interview.
“Before attending Stanford, I had a prestigious job working with the Borusan Group – specialized in logistics and energy – in Turkey. After graduating, I knew I had to build something of my own and I started to look into markets, see what was missing in Turkey. Soon I realized there wasn’t even one online retail market on baby and mother products,” says Roys. AnneLutfen is now one of the fastest growing online retailers in Turkey. The company has 25 investors, including Agah Ugur and Jaclyn Shnau.
AnneLutfen differentiates itself from its competitors through fast delivery, good customer service (live chat, 10 min. response frame on social media), and advanced technology. Roys proudly says they have the biggest mother/baby selection in Turkey, and they give great importance in online product descriptions, videos, and comments. They’re also very active on social media, something other Turkish companies haven’t yet picked up on. She says they regularly give away free gifts through twitter and Facebook, and have Instagram competitions to create hype for the website.
Established in 2011 AnneLutfen entered the fastest growing market in Europe: Turkish economy expanded by 9.2% in 2010, and 8.5 percent in 2011. The company also entered a market where baby/mother retail was worth $6 billion and only %1 was online at the time. “Compared to the United States average of 10%, I realized this was the market to grow in. Even after 3 years, I believe the market has still not reached its maximum. Slowly, with offline customers switching their habits to online, there will be huge growth in e-commerce in the next five years in Turkey,” says Roys.
When I asked Roys about how she would describe their change in market percentage and sales since they first launched AnneLutfen, she said that in their first year they developed the product base for their website and perfected their service levels. She says considering the importance Turkish people give on people relations and communication, they knew they had to achieve excellence in customer service if they wanted to be the best in the market. She believes this is one of the biggest reasons they were able to grow 11 times more in only 12 months. Roys says their business is not as highly affected from political crises or the economy as much as other businesses, and gives the example that they grew 40% during Gezi protests, a major uprising in Turkey against the current government that negatively affected most businesses.
Although AnneLutfen was not affected majorly by the recent crisis, Roys thinks customer confidence index is the economic data that affects their business the most. “Baby and mother retail does not get affected by crisis, but political instability and currency fluctuations affects customers spending habits. People spend more carefully in unstable environments.”Roys tells me that in order to survive the crisis in the past years, they focused on growing their sales team and support teams, and promoted their marketing head to be the merchandising head in order to cut on costs and have a better marketing plan with the suppliers.
When I asked about their biggest challenges, she responds firmly: getting new investments. “ E-commerce requires a lot of capital before the company scales and becomes cash flow positive, therefore the investing environment in Turkey is very important. AnneLutfen has been growing with crowd-funding. We have 47 different angel investors in the company, 80% of which are foreigners, and it has been challenging to get those,” she continues by saying that foreign angel investors want to invest in Turkey since it’s a fast growing market, but they want to limit their exposure with a minimum investment amount, and that since Turks are new to angel investing, their appetite to invest are less than foreigners.
Finally, Roys says that there are always new entries to the market, but it takes time to build relationships with suppliers and develop a large product base. “The market is very big; we are the only large player so there’s always room for more players.” However, she says that for now, since they don’t have competition, they’re able to maintain their prices: “ We are a full price website, but every day we have special offers on different products. Although offers definitely induce sales, most parents are price-agnostic, so discounts are not a must in our business.”